German Authorities Investigating Several Hundred Possible Russian War Crimes In Ukraine

Ukrainian defenders were still holding out in Syevyerodonetsk, Ukrainian officials said, as the weeks-long battle for the key eastern city continued, while the Russian forces launched a heavy bombardment on Lysychansk, located on the bank of the Severskiy Donets River opposite Syevyerodonetsk.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on June 18 made a rare trip outside the capital, Kyiv, visiting the embattled southern city of Mykolaiv for the first time since the start of Russia’s invasion in February.

The Ukrainian military said on June 18 there was continuous “fire from artillery and rocket-propelled grenade launchers at the positions of our troops and civilian infrastructure” in Lysychansk.

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Serhiy Hayday, the military governor of Luhansk, the region where the twin cities are located, told Ukraine’s public broadcaster on June 17 that many people were killed in the heavy shelling.

Hayday later said in an online post that a key highway out of the city was now impassable.

The British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on June 18 that in the past 48 hours, Russian forces likely renewed their push south of the city of Izyum, some 115 kilometers northwest of Syevyerodonetsk, aiming to envelop the city from the north.

Hayday said it was impossible to evacuate more than 500 civilians who are trapped inside the Azot chemical plant in Syevyerodonetsk.

He said around 10,000 civilians out of a prewar population of 100,000 remain trapped in Syevyerodonetsk, with essential supplies running out.

The United Nations has put the number of civilians still trapped in the city at 12,000.

Russia earlier this week offered what it said was a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of civilians toward Moscow-controlled territory and demanded that Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azot plant surrender. Ukraine has ignored the Russian offer.

The British intelligence bulletin noted that Russia, both earlier in the Ukraine campaign and in Syria, has used unilaterally declared humanitarian corridors as a mechanism to manipulate the battle space and impose the forced transfer of populations.

Russia’s proposed route, British intelligence said, would take civilians toward the town of Svatova, deeper inside Russian-occupied territory.

If trapped civilians refuse Moscow’s offer of exiting via a corridor, Russian will likely claim justification in making less of a distinction between them and any Ukrainian military targets in the area, British intelligence concluded in its bulletin.

In Mykolaiv, Zelenskiy “inspected the building of the Mykolaiv regional state administration which was destroyed as a result of a missile strike by Russian forces,” the presidency said in a statement.

Mykolaiv has been holding the defense of southern Ukraine, as it lies on the way to the key strategic Black Sea port of Odesa.

Zelenskiy’s visit came a day after a Russian strike killed two people and injured 20 in Mykolaiv, which has been regularly targeted by Russian forces since the start of their invasion on February 24.

Zelenskiy also took part in a meeting with local officials in what looked like an underground basement, giving out awards for bravery.

Russian forces also launched missile strikes on Ukraine’s largest oil refinery on July 18, according to the regional governor in the central Poltava region.

“Kremenchuk (oil refinery) is again under enemy strike. Between six and eight Russian missiles hit refineries and other infrastructure,” Dmytro Lunin said in a Telegram message.

Ukraine said its forces sank a Russian naval tugboat with two Harpoon missiles in the Black Sea on June 17, the first time it has claimed to have struck a Russian vessel with Western-supplied anti-ship weapons.

“Later it became known that it sank,” Odesa military governor Maksym Marchenko said in a video statement on his Telegram channel after initial reports that the Vasily Bech vessel had been hit.

The claim could not be independently confirmed. There was no comment from the Russian side.

Ukraine has repeatedly requested more advance heavy weaponry to help its outnumbered and outgunned forces stave off Russia’s all-out assault.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered to launch a military training program for Ukrainian forces during a surprise meeting with Zelenskiy in Kyiv on June 17.

The program could train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days, according to Johnson’s office. Each soldier would spend three weeks learning battle skills for the front line, as well as basic medical training, cybersecurity, and counter-explosive tactics.

Ukraine has been losing thousands of its best soldiers in the grinding war in the Donbas in Ukraine’s east. Zelenskiy said as many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying a day.

Upon his return to Britain, Johnson said the West must continue to support Ukraine as it battles to recover territory seized by Russia, saying it would a “catastrophe” if Russian President Vladimir Putin was able to claim victory.

The British leader warned that Kyiv should not be pressured to accept a “bad peace” that would only serve as the prelude to a renewed Russian offensive.

With reporting by Reuters, BBC, AFP, and dpa

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